Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Wondering how to set up a new HD or 4K TV? It may seem like a daunting task, with pages and pages of settings and a pile of cables. But since you took all that time finding the right TV, and you've driven/carried/dragged it home, it's worth a little extra time making sure it's correctly set up. Otherwise, it won't look its best.
After you follow the instructions for getting the TV on its stand (if it isn't already), the real setup begins. There are countless settings, options and potential issues between box and beautiful picture.
This how-to guide should help you navigate the waters of TV technology.
If this is your first TV (or first new one in a while), you may find the cables have changed a lot since the last time you hooked one up. Even if you're replacing an older TV, it's important to understand the cable of choice: HDMI.
HDMI cables carry high-resolution images and sound over one small cable. If you bought your TV at a store, perhaps you were pushed into buying expensive HDMI cables to go with your TV.
Expensive HDMI cables offer no benefit to the average consumer. If you paid more than $10 for your HDMI cables, you should consider returning them. Check out my article on why all HDMI cables are the same for more information. If you bought HDMI cables in the last few years, chances are they'll still work. If not, you can get new cables cheap.
Pretty much all video sources, from game consoles to Blu-ray players to media streamers, use HDMI cables. If you have older gear, like a DVD player, a Nintendo Wii or a VHS deck, there are some older cables you need to consider.
Component cables are three attached cables identified with the colors red, green and blue. Most are also labeled Y, Pb and Pr. These only carry video. You'll need two more cables for audio, most commonly a matched pair of red and white analog audio cables. If your gear has HDMI, use that instead, it's better and easier.
If you're got a new 4K Ultra HD TV, you probably don't need new HDMI cables, despite what the salesperson might have told you. It is important to understand that it is not about the HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 cables themselves, but the connection (i.e. in your TV or media streamer). The latest version of the connection is HDMI 2.1, but you don't need to worry about that for now.
Sometimes, very rarely, spending a bit more on certain cables is a good idea.
If you bought a 4K or regular Blu-ray player to go with your new TV, it will probably auto-detect what your TV wants (1080p or 2160p) and send it that. The same is true for a newer streaming box or game console. For older devices, or a cable or satellite box, make sure that it's set for 16x9 video and set to output HD.
Just because the cable box is capable of HD doesn't mean you're getting HD. You need to pay your provider for HD channels (unless they're included in your current package) and you need to tune to the specific HD channels. For example, with my provider, channel 2 is SD, whereas channel 1002 is HD. This is also true for Netflix and other streaming services. For example, with Netflix you can only get 4K if you're paying for the most expensive streaming tier. If you're curious what you need to get 4K content to your TV, check out: Where can I get 4K Ultra HD TV shows and movies today?
You can also get free HDTV with an antenna.
As I discuss in my article on whether to upgrade your home theater gear, if you have a new 4K TV, you should consider getting a 4K Blu-ray player. A good 4K Blu-ray will look better than any streaming source.
If you're looking to connect your 4K TV to a computer, here are some things to think about.
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Once you have everything plugged in (see the slideshow above for images of typical inputs and outputs), take a moment to check your TV's settings. Most modern TVs will ask upon initial startup if the TV is being used in a home or a store. Pick the one most appropriate to your environment (hopefully "home"; I'm not sure why you'd be living in Best Buy).
A good place to start is What's the best picture mode. Even if you don't want to adjust anything else, selecting the right picture mode will go a long way in getting your TV to look its best. Here's the CliffsNotes version: The TV will be its most accurate (in other words, most realistic) in its Movie or Cinema picture mode. It will appear brighter in its Sports or Vivid mode.